The sharp increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the country even after the government’s intensive efforts to control it, is gripping minds of common people with fear and tension. The general masses are losing hope of this pandemic ending anytime soon. However, on the far distant coast of this vast country, we see a ray of hope just like the way a lighthouse provides to the ship in darkest of the oceans. This ray of hope is none other than the Kerala which is the state with the highest literacy rate and the best public health infrastructure in the country.
Kerala which was the worst affected state during the starting of COVID-19 cases in India is now the only state to flatten the curve and is continuously reducing the number of positive cases reported daily. What has allowed Kerala to achieve this extraordinary feat, finding itself as an example for the rest of the world standing alongside countries like Taiwan and already being held up around the world as a success story? Let’s look into the strategies adopted by Kerala:
Five Steps (Panch Sutra)
- Testing and if found positive isolation (Since corona is not India born disease, mass testing was done of those who came from foreign countries and if found little bit suspected was kept under strict watch.)
- Contact Tracing (Primary as well as secondary contacts. Going to the places where the person went in nearby past). The government named it “Break the Chain” Campaign and worked intensively towards it.
- Quarantining people (Institutional as well as Home)
- Community Support (No discrimination between people and protecting the people affected by COVID-19 from verbal and physical attacks. All the efforts started from Panchayat level and volunteers played their part by creating awareness and tracing affected people. Moreover, teams were made to take care of the people and to provide them with support in the time of distress. Home delivery of every essential thing was provided to those under home quarantine. The teams also provided psychological counselling from time to time, which gave them much needed mental support)
- Follow up testing (time to time testing of those who were discharged and those who came in primary contact with affected persons.)
Moreover, Kerala’s experience of dealing with dangerous the Nipah virus also helped it a lot in tackling the current pandemic. Apart from this, freebies were provided to poor people and migrant workers like food, free mobile recharge, carrom boats for recreation purpose etc.
Aarogya Setu App – Who?
Now an important point to note is that Kerala did all the contact tracing and flattened the curve without the use of any App. As we know Government recently launched Aarogya Setu App to provide information related to COVID-19 as well as affected persons nearby you and those who came in contact with affected persons, providing an easy mechanism for contact tracing. But how the information uploaded on App will be used is still not clear. Government has made it mandatory to install in some areas and for some category of people. But in the minds of common people, there are still issues related to breach of their privacy, surveillance, spying etc. It reminds them of data privacy issues involved with AADHAR. Moreover, the threat seems more real as many private players are also involved in developing and working of the app.
What we can learn from Kerala
Public health services give the best and effective results when the normal public is involved in it. If everybody feels a part of it then the system works smoothly.
So the output is that we need to encourage people by bringing confidence in them to share the information concerning persons in whose contact they came in. The solution is not mandatorily imposing the installation of the app or intimidating them by fear of punishment because it will further add miseries for those who are already suffering or feels that they might develop symptoms of COVID-19. The result of such intimidation and threat will be that people will be reluctant in uploading their health information in fear of being stigmatized and ostracized by other people. False information will be uploaded and people will not share their actual state of health.
In Kerala, there is no stigma and no discrimination against affected people. Care and protection is the only thing offered by society. The state worked more on a pattern of inclusive theory rather than forcefully imposing apps on them. Here all the relevant stakeholders were included to help fight against the pandemic. If such steps would be taken throughout the country then people will happily come out to resolve their health issues in particular and for benefit of the community in general.
It also needs to be taken into consideration that Kerala ranks top in the Health sector among all the states in India according to report published by Neeti Aayog , which considers several factors like Number of doctors per 1000 people, the number of vacant and occupied beds in the hospital, % of GDP expenditure in the health sector, neonatal as well infant mortality rate to name a few. The long term investment of Kerala in health sector provided it with the much-needed support to fight the pandemic and set as an example for other states.
The need is to invest and develop public health infrastructure. Private players are always driven by profit and commercial mentality and very rarely have any charitable instincts. So we cannot allow the private sector to overtake public sector in health services otherwise it will become out of the reach for a large chunk of common masses to get themselves treated for even basic diseases. As of now to fight this pandemic some states have set a maximum limit for private players which they can charge from patients and more so in some states private hospitals have been taken under government control.
The effort should be to make our public health care system strong, where not only poor approach due to the only option available to them but also rich because of the excellent services at par with private sector provided by it.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Harshit Sharma is a B.A., LL.B. (Criminal Law Hons.) graduate from National Law University, Jodhpur and an LLM (Criminal Law) from Mahatma Jyoti Rao Phoole University, Jaipur. He has qualified NTA NET (December 2019) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rishav Dixit is a B.A., LL.B (Business Law Hons.) graduate from National Law University, Jodhpur (Batch of 2019). Presently he is working as an Associate for Cyril Amarchand and Mangaldas.